The people behind the names: Dr. Mary Fisher

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Dr. Mary Winter Fisher served the health needs of this community for 33 years, starting in 1895. She passed away on Memorial Day in 1928.

We don’t have to be too observant to realize that the history of the place we live in is described by place names.

We live in Archuleta County, surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. Both Archuleta and the Juan in San Juan are the names of people relevant to our history. The list of such names surrounding us is too long to repeat here. Instead, with this column I am launching a series of columns talking about the people behind local place names and their relevance to our history.

The first two columns are about public facilities well known to everyone who has lived here any length of time. I’m starting with Dr. Mary Winter Fisher and Ruby Sisson.

Our community has memorialized Dr. Mary Winter Fisher by naming part of our publicly owned health facility in honor of her service to our community. Our library name recognizes Ruby Sisson, who taught public school here for decades.

I did not personally know Fisher because she passed on before I moved here. I did know many people who knew her, many of them when they first saw the light of day because her hand delivered them as babies.

I did know Sisson somewhat because I had kids who sat in her classes.

One of the more ominous sounding place names I know of is Dead Man’s Trail, which parallels Dead Man’s Creek. Why Dead Man? The old-timer who told me why swears the story is true and I have no reason to doubt him. Besides, Fisher was involved in this story.

It seems that back in the day, one of the Parr brothers had a sheep camp up high in the mountains past the end of Four Mile Trail. Feeling the need of a little civilized companionship, Parr left the sheep in the hands of one of the herders and dropped down off of the mountain to spend a weekend with his family. On his way back to Four Mile Trail and the herd, Parr stopped off to say howdy to Ma Cade, living at Cade Flats at the time.

Being of the neighborly sort, Ma Cade invited him in for a glass of warm milk and some fresh cherries. An obliging Parr joined her for the repast, then allowing as how he needed to reach camp, he said goodbye, climbed on his horse and headed up Four Mile Trail, past the falls, past Lower Four Mile Lake, past Upper Four Mile Lake and through a mountain pass to the sheep herd.

He made it before dark, but things were not good. When he got to camp, he felt so bad he handed the reins of his horse to one of the herders and stretched out by the fire, the moans and groans coming from behind his mustache matching the grumbling from his aching belly. As darkness fell on the mountain tops, the herders gathered around the fire, holding a parley on what to do about the boss and his woes. One of the herders pulled the can of Arbuckles coffee out of the coals of the fire and poured Parr a cup. Parr took one sip and grabbed his belly, writhing with pain. One of the herders jumped in his saddle and pointed his mustang down the trail, headed for Pagosa Springs.

“Adios! I’m a gonna fetch Dr. Mary,” he shouted over his shoulder.

Fisher held the kerosene lantern while her husband hitched up the buggy and she started up the trail to Ma Cade’s. Leaving the buggy at Ma Cade’s, she followed the herder up narrow Four Mile Trail, unable to see the herder in the blackness, but tuned in to the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves.

We’ll finish this story next week.